By Hideki Nakamura
One of the features of the 'new generation' of Korean artists is
that, although they are critical of the establishment order, they do
not aim to create an anti-establishment movement. This new
generation of artists share cultural, rather than political values;
they seek pleasure rather than repressing desire; and they appeal to
all the senses, rather than just adhering to words.
Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of the work of this new generation is that, by using materials which eliminate distinctions between the original and the copy, such as industrial products or electronic media, they explore the nature of human existence in a highly industrialized consumer society. Yet also evident is their desire to establish an international currency through a Korean aesthetic sensibility rather than by copying Western cultural models. These characteristics distinguish these artists from previous generations. A similar trend can also be observed among 'new generation' Japanese artists.
The exhibition consisted of large-scale installations by five
artists. Ample, even extravagant, space was given to each exhibit.
On entering the exhibition the visitor was overwhelmed by Hong-Sung-
Do's installation Time Travel, 1995, a dazzling display of
dispersed pieces of car parts which imparted an uncanny sense of
weightlessness. In the next room was the work of Bae Bien-U. The
viewer is surrounded by photographs of pine trees found at an
ancient grave site, taken from the central vantage point at which
the viewer stands. The impact of the work relies on the rich
repetition of sharp curves of the pine trunks, and the mist and
shimmering light drifting among them. Perhaps the choice of sharp
curves is expressive of the Korean sensibility, which seems a little
different to Japanese sensibility.
Further on, one finds Yook Keun-Byung's The Sound of Landscape + Eye for Field 1995 = Survival is History, 1995. Within a cylinder, a symbol of the intangible accumulations of time, is a video screen showing historical events and another video screen showing an eye trying to see them. This eye throws the viewer's gaze back on itself, while looking back itself into the past it represents. Choi Jeong-Hwa's Artificial Evolution, 1995, consists of a collection of toy-like plastic parts which alternately rise and fall when air is blown into them. Made of industrial products in bright synthetic colours, they represent an unnatural nature, emphasizing the emptiness of their interiors and the futility of their passive movement.
The fifth artist. Moon Joo, spread hundreds of garlic cloves on the floor, in the middle of which was placed a small statuette of the symbol of modern America, the Statue of Liberty. Several monitors showing video images were positioned around the room, creating a confrontational tension within the space.
The Spaces Between
My overall impression of this exhibition was the strong personal vision of the curator Toshio Shimizu. For Shimizu, the collapse of modernism, particularly since 1990, has revealed that 'the ideas and products of the West do not always bring about happiness'. For Shimizu, art is something that can 'nurse the mind' amidst the confusing conditions of contemporary life. With the demise of the ideal of Western modernism, there is a need to explore the imperatives of non-Western societies and to develop awareness through the points of contact that occur between different cultures, societies and communications.
His stated intention was 'to show the state of the mind of Korea's new era' through the works of these five Korean artists, who refuse to be content with simply accepting external ideologies and look instead at their own thoughts with their internal mind'.
In this respect the installations of these five artists share an interest in an objectified 'space between' the industrial products or screened images presented. The uncertain, fluid 'space between' - both physical and metaphysical - is actively organized as the centre of the work, and so constitutes the 'mind'. Thus Hong Sung-Do draws the viewer's attention to 'mid-air', the space created by the parts of car, rather than the parts themselves; Bae Bien-U focuses on the space between pine trees. Yook Keun-Byung turns his eye to the space between historical events, while bringing to consciousness the space between the viewer and the viewed. In Moon Joo's Garlic Manhattan, spaces are created among the jostling garlic knobs, the Statue of Liberty, and the confronting video images; similarly, Choi Jeong-Hwa shows the space between piles of mass-produced objects and discarded objects. If what Shimizu calls the 'direction of the new era' can be found in this exhibition, it exists in the possibilities of these 'spaces between' - a non-Western concept.
Hideki Nakamura works as an art critic in Japan.
(This article has also appeared in Art Asia Pacific, Vol. 3, nr. 2 1996)